Sunday Salon 3-31-13

Happy Easter, everyone, from rainy and overcast Reno! It’s a lazy day, and time for a little looking back at the week past.

On the book front, this morning I completed Donald Keene’s 5 Modern Japanese Novelists, which wasn’t an in-depth scholarly work but nonetheless a good critical introduction to the writers he treats — Tanizaki, Kawabata, Mishima, Abe, and Shiba. Keene’s personal anecdotes (he knew all five personally) enliven the commentary. I hope to have a fuller review of the book in the next few days.

Ongoing reading projects are Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way and the exhibition catalog Out of Character: Decoding Chinese Calligraphy. I admit that I’ve been working on the latter for months, but I still intend to complete it! What my next reading project will be, however, I don’t really know. I have many great options, and am being pulled in multiple directions. Perhaps because I want to continue the Japan theme, and because the book is sitting here next to me, An Edo Anthology, a collection of eighteenth and nineteenth century writings and art from the city that later became Tokyo, is calling out to me, as is Donald Keene’s Anthology of Japanese Literature. There are other temptations, like the new biography Henry Cowell: A Man Made of Music by Joel Sachs, which looks quite excellent.

In the realm of movies, I’m continuing my slow pace, with only two films viewed this week: Anima Mundi, Godfrey Reggio’s short film on wildlife and their habitats, and, on TCM, I Love You Again, a lightweight but very enjoyable 1940 film with William Powell and Myrna Loy (how could any film with those two delightful stars be anything other than enjoyable?)

As for Easter Sunday, I fear I’m going to be spending much of it staring at the television. I would quite like to see the PBS presentation of Thomas Adès’s The Tempest — I don’t believe I’ve ever heard a note of Adès music, and I would hear quite a few notes by this much-praised British composer if I tune in for this opera. I had already tentatively planned to watch Bach’s St. Matthew Passion in honor of Easter, from a Blu-ray disc featuring the “ritualization” of Bach’s work by Peter Sellars that the Berlin Philharmonic presented a couple of years ago. Also, it’s time for another episode of “Sunday Nights with Ozu,” about which I recently wrote. I was considering the relatively short The Record of a Tenement Gentleman. But adding this 75 minute film to the six or more hours of Bach and Adès music makes for a rich day. We’ll see how it turns out.

Coming tomorrow, of course, is Opening Day, so I’ll leave you for this morning with a hearty “Go Giants!”

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Barzun on Baseball

“Baseball takes its mystic nine and scatters them wide. A kind of individualism thereby returns, but it is limited – eternal vigilance is the price of victory. Just because they’re far apart, the outfield can’t dream or play she-loves-me-not with daisies. The infield is like a steel net held in the hands of the catcher. He is the psychologist and historian for the staff – or else his signals will give the opposition hits. The value of his headpiece is shown by the ironmongery worn to protect it. The pitcher, on the other hand, is the wayward man of genius, whom others will direct. They will expect nothing from him but virtuosity. He is surrounded no doubt by mere talent, unless one excepts that transplanted acrobat, the shortstop. What a brilliant invention is his role despite its exposure to ludicrous lapses! One man to each base, and then the free lance, the trouble shooter, the movable feast for the eyes, whose motion animates the whole foreground.

“The rules keep pace with this imaginative creation so rich in allusions to real life. How excellent, for instance, that a foul tip muffed by the catcher gives the batter another chance. It is the recognition of Chance that knows no argument. But on the other hand, how wise and just that the third strike must not be dropped. This points to the fact that near the end of any struggle life asks for more than is needful in order to clinch success. A victory has to be won, not snatched. We find also our American innocence in calling ‘World Series’ the annual games between the winners in each big league. The world doesn’t know or care and couldn’t compete if it wanted to, but since it’s us children having fun, why, the world is our stage. I said baseball was Greek. Is there not a poetic symbol in the new meaning – our meaning – of ‘Ruth hits Homer’?”

From God’s Country and Mine (1954) by Jacques Barzun, who died today at the age of 104. Here’s his obituary from The New York Times.

Sunday Salon 9-23-12

Happy Sunday, Salon readers!

The week past has actually been a productive one, although you wouldn’t know it by looking at my blog. Most of my writing time has been spent preparing program notes for the next concerts of the Reno Philharmonic Orchestra and my employer, the Reno Chamber Orchestra. These sorts of notes, if you haven’t seen them before, provide some biographical information about the people who wrote the music, and background, both historical and musical, about their compositions. With classical music not, unfortunately, being a common, integral part of our education anymore, giving listeners a little information before they hear these works at concerts might make their listening experience a little more fulfilling. That’s the hope, anyway.

In doing research for these notes, I always happen on what I call “fun facts,” bits of history that aren’t necessarily important to the music, but might spur the imagination or curiosity of the reader, or just give them a laugh. For this last set of notes, for instance, I was reading about Franz Josef Haydn’s trips to London in 1791-2 and 1794-5, during which he wrote and premiered his twelve “London” Symphonies, Nos. 93-104, to an adoring public and sold-out houses. The most popular of these twelve at the time was the Symphony No. 100, the “Military,” which was the specific piece I was writing about and which became perhaps the most popular symphonic work in England for years after its 1794 first performance. Anyway, one of the “fun facts” that I came across was that Haydn received many, many gifts from his fans during these London trips. Among his favorites was a red parrot that talked, with a repertoire of words in both English and German. It pleases me somehow to know that the great Haydn owned a talking parrot. One thing I was not able to find in my research, however, was the parrot’s name. I shall not rest until I solve this mystery. Although I have no evidence at all to support this, I’m thinking that the parrot might have been called Bob. If I had a parrot, I’d name it Bob. Or perhaps Theophrastus*. Or Ziggy.

Those program notes will be appearing at the Orchestras’ respective websites before very long. As far as my blog is concerned, my only entries this week pertained to the fourth annual Astronomy Photographer of the Year contest, sponsored by the Royal Observatory Greenwich. If you haven’t seen the winning photographs yet, you really should check them out. I put a few on the blog, and all the winners are now up at the Royal Observatory’s website.

As for the coming week, I’m still working on Thomas Christensen’s book 1616: The World in Motion, and hope to have a review soon. A couple of other blog entries are in the works, but I’ve managed to distract myself a bit reading about the relationship, over many years, between Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Franz Anton Mesmer (of “mesmerism,” “mesmerize,” and “animal magnetism” fame). It’s an odd and interesting story that also involves a musical instrument, one of whose names is “hydrodaktulopsychicharmonica.” Be looking for that blog entry in the next few days.

I must add a final shout-out to the 2012 National League West winning San Francisco Giants, who wrapped up the division win last night. Anchor Porter, my favorite beer, brewed of course in San Francisco, was part of the celebration.

Until next Sunday, Go Giants!

*Theophrastus, by the way, is in honor of the alchemist and physician Paracelsus (1490 or 1493-1541), whose birth name is one of the most sonorous of all time: Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim. Try fitting that on a driver’s license.